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January 18, 2019
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robotics - page 3

Samsung is launching a bunch of new robots and a wearable exoskeleton

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Okay, this is legitimately a fun surprise, In addition to all of the standard TV and appliance talk, Samsung used today’s CES press conference  to announce a number of different robots — an entirely new field for the consumer electronics company. The company offered a sneak preview of the Samsung Bot Care on stage at the event.

The rolling home robot is a health care assistant designed for elderly users and other people in need of home assistants. The ‘bot can offer health briefings, give out medication and check a user’s vitals.

There’s also the Samsung Bot Air, which is an in-home air quality monitor and the Samsung Bot Retail, which brings that technology into a brick and mortar setting. In addition to all of these, we got the briefest sneak preview of Samsung Gems, a mobility assisting exoskeleton that appears to be targeted athletes.

Samsung really blew through all of that as a kind of “one more thing” at the end of an event in which it spent a majority talking about Bixby on washing machines and the like. Between that and the general lack of information around availability, I suspect we won’t be seeing any of these products in stores any time soon. Hardware is hard and robots are harder. 

Still, a fun little glimpse at what might be around the corner from the company.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Watch the ANYmal quadrupedal robot go for an adventure in the sewers of Zurich

in Artificial Intelligence/Delhi/ETH Zurich/ETHZ/Gadgets/Hardware/India/Politics/robotics/robots/Science by

There’s a lot of talk about the many potential uses of multi-legged robots like Cheetahbot and Spot — but in order for those to come to fruition, the robots actually have to go out and do stuff. And to train for a glorious future of sewer inspection (and helping rescue people, probably), this Swiss quadrupedal bot is going deep underground.

ETH Zurich / Daniel Winkler

The robot is called ANYmal, and it’s a long-term collaboration between the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, abbreviated there as ETH Zurich, and a spinoff from the university called ANYbotics. Its latest escapade was a trip to the sewers below that city, where it could eventually aid or replace the manual inspection process.

ANYmal isn’t brand new — like most robot platforms, it’s been under constant revision for years. But it’s only recently that cameras and sensors like lidar have gotten good enough and small enough that real-world testing in a dark, slimy place like sewer pipes could be considered.

Most cities have miles and miles of underground infrastructure that can only be checked by expert inspectors. This is dangerous and tedious work — perfect for automation. Imagine instead of yearly inspections by people, if robots were swinging by once a week. If anything looks off, it calls in the humans. It could also enter areas rendered inaccessible by disasters or simply too small for people to navigate safely.

But of course, before an army of robots can inhabit our sewers (where have I encountered this concept before? Oh yeah…) the robot needs to experience and learn about that environment. First outings will be only minimally autonomous, with more independence added as the robot and team gain confidence.

“Just because something works in the lab doesn’t always mean it will in the real world,” explained ANYbot co-founder Peter Fankhauser in the ETHZ story.

Testing the robot’s sensors and skills in a real-world scenario provides new insights and tons of data for the engineers to work with. For instance, when the environment is completely dark, laser-based imaging may work, but what if there’s a lot of water, steam, or smoke? ANYmal should also be able to feel its surroundings, its creators decided.

ETH Zurich / Daniel Winkler

So they tested both sensor-equipped feet (with mixed success) and the possibility of ANYmal raising its “paw” to touch a wall, to find a button or determine temperature or texture. This latter action had to be manually improvised by the pilots, but clearly it’s something it should be able to do on its own. Add it to the list!

You can watch “Inspector ANYmal’s” trip below Zurich in the video below.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Up close and hands-on with Sony’s Aibo

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In 2006, the world’s Aibos begun a slow march toward death. After seven years, Sony discontinued the line, citing disappointing sales. The company only managed to move around 150,000 in that time frame.

By 2014, the electronics giant ended customer support altogether, leaving the remaining Aibos without support for the aging, electronic bodies. The promise of eternal life for their robotic companions proved as fleeting as life itself. Gone in the blink of an eye.

Last year’s CES offered a glimmer of home for robotic redemption. An otherwise lackluster keynote ended with a bang when Sony unveiled a half dozen of the latest Aibo models, all sitting and waddling, as curious puppies do. I’ve never seen an entire room of technology journalists utterly speechless.

Four years after the company unceremoniously issued a death sentence for an entire generation, Aibo was back, and the results were stunning. Sony had clearly mastered the perfect combination of LED eyes, head tilt and locomotion. The new Aibo is easily the most realistic and advanced the company has ever created. It takes a lot to melt the hearts of CES attendees.

The new Aibo quickly shot to the top of my list of most anticipated reviews. It took newly a year of waiting and occasionally haranguing Sony, but we finally managed to get one of our own — for a few days, at least. For a few days, Aibo patrolled TechCrunch’s New York HQ, before heading home to hang out with our videographer for a few more.

Aibo arrived, as all dogs do, in a large, cardboard egg. He is, thankfully, sound asleep inside the box. A long press of the power button on the collar wakes him up. He stirs slowly, from a near fetal position, his paws extending outward with a stretch. He acknowledges his limbs with a yawn and slowly stands, shaking himself out as though he’d just run through the sprinklers in the yard.

It’s adorable and great and super lifelike. Great care has been given to every actuated movement, and the results are easily the most impressive I’ve seen on a home robot, leaving products like Anki’s Vector behind in the process. There are 22 axes of movement in all, powered by Sony’s new proprietary actuators, giving Aibo free and realistic movement.

The real magic, however, is contained in a pair of OLED eyes, serving as the windows to Aibo’s robotic soul and the key to a puppy-like personality. There are two cameras — a front-facing one for future imaging functionality, which can be used to bring to life augmented reality features in the My Aibo app, and a second SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) located on the rear to give the dog a sense of where he is.

Once Aibo’s up and running (well, walking), he roams around autonomously, exploring the space, barking for attention. You know, like a real puppy. And like a real puppy, it’s cute until you have to get work done. Aibo’s need for attention is nearly as high as his price tag, and several times I found myself picking him up and placing him on the charging station because he was just too distracting for the office.

Aibo should be able to return to the charging pad on his own, but the young dog doesn’t always listen. Disobedience is bred — or, rather — programmed — in. The idea is that, like a real dog, training takes time. I need to caveat all of this by saying that with the limited time we were given with Aibo (due to a constraint on the number of samples Sony has on hand), we weren’t able to really teach the dog too much.

Sony says each robot has a “unique” personality — something that’s nearly impossible to gauge over the course of a few hours with a single unit. Even so, the pup is a pretty quick listener, and responded pretty well to most of the commands we threw at him. There are simple, standard tricks, like shake hands and sit down, and more complex ones like sing and dance.

Passersby were similarly impressed with the dog’s response to feedback, both through spoken affirmation and tactile feed, such as petting under different parts of his body. But they all asked the same question, to a one: “what’s the point?”

It’s a fair question for a robot that’s going to set you back around $3,000. “Companionship” was the best I could muster. Maybe you can’t have a real dog for any number of reasons, or maybe you just don’t want to pick up all the poop. For most, however, poor little Aibo will never replace the real thing.

And that price will always be a major sticking point. After all, it’s a big part of why Sony initially failed to sell many units in the first place — a fact that ultimately led to those dogs’ demise. For Aibo to succeed, Sony needs to drop the price dramatically or give users a really compelling reason to be late on their rent.

The truth is, more often than not, dog stories end in tragedy. And the story’s not likely to change for this plucky pup.

News Source = techcrunch.com

At cobotics startup Formant, ex-Googlers team up humans & machines

in Artificial Intelligence/Delhi/Enterprise/funding/Fundings & Exits/Hardware/India/Politics/Recent Funding/robotics/SaaS/Startups/talent/TC by

Our distinct skillsets and shortcomings mean people and robots will join forces for the next few decades. Robots are tireless, efficient, and reliable, but in a millisecond through intuition and situational awareness, humans can make decisions machine can’t. Until workplace robots are truly autonomous and don’t require any human thinking, we’ll need software to supervise them at scale. Formant comes out of stealth today to “help people speak robot” says co-founder and CEO Jeff Linnell. “What’s really going to move the needle in the innovation economy is using humans as an empowering element in automation.”

Linnell learned the grace of uniting flesh and steel while working on the movie Gravity. “We put cameras and Sandra Bullock on dollies” he bluntly recalls. Artistic vision and robotic precision combined to create gorgeous zero-gravity scenes that made audiences feel weightless. Google bought his startup Bot & Dolly, and Linnell spent 10 years there as a director of robotics while forming his thesis.

Now with Formant, he wants to make hybrid workforce cooperation feel frictionless.

The company has raised a $6 million seed round from SignalFire, a data driven VC fund with software for recruiting engineers. Formant is launching its closed beta that equips businesses with cloud infrastructure for collecting, making sense of, and acting on data from fleets of robots. It allows a single human to oversee 10, 20, or 100 machines, stepping in to clear confusion when they aren’t sure what to do.

“The tooling is 10 years behind the web” Linnell explains. “If you build a data company today, you’ll use AWS or Google Cloud, but that simply doesn’t exist for robotics. We’re building that layer.”

A Beautiful Marriage

“This is going to sound completely bizarre” Formant co-founder and CTO Anthony Jules warns me. “I had a recurring dream [as a child] in which I was a ship captain and I had a little mechanical parrot on my should that would look at situations and help me decide what to do as we’d sail the seas trying to avoid this octopus. Since then I knew that building intelligent machines is what I do in this world.”

So he went to MIT, left a robotics PhD program to build a startup called Sapient Corporation that he built into a 4000-employee public company, and worked on the Tony Hawk video games. He too joined Google through an acquisition, meeting Linnell after Redwood Robotics where he was COO got acquired. “We came up with some similar beliefs. There are a few places where full autonomy will actually work, but it’s really about creating a beautiful marriage of what machines are good at and what humans are good at” Jules tells me

Formant now has SAAS pilots running with businesses in several verticals to make their “robot-shaped data” usable. They range from food manufacturing to heavy infrastructure inspection to construction, and even training animals. Linnell also foresees retail increasingly employing fleets of robots not just in the warehouse but on the showroom floor, and they’ll require precise coordination.

What’s different about Formant is it doesn’t build the bots. Instead, it builds the reins for people to deftly control them.

First, Formant connects to sensors to fill up a cloud with Lidar, depth imagery, video, photos, log files, metrics, motor torques, and scalar values. The software parses that data and when something goes wrong or the system isn’t sure how to move forward, Formant alerts the human ‘foreman’ that they need to intervene. It can monitor the fleet, sniff out the source of errors, and suggest options for what to do next.

For example, “when an autonomous digger encounters an obstacle in the foundation of a construction site, an operator is necessary to evaluate whether it is safe for the robot to proceed or stop” Linnell writes. “This decision is made in tandem: the rich data gathered by the robot is easily interpreted by a human but difficult or legally questionable for a machine. This choice still depends on the value judgment of the human, and will change depending on if the obstacle is a gas main, a boulder, or an electrical wire.”

Any single data stream alone can’t reveal the mysteries that arise, and people would struggle to juggle the different feeds in their minds. But not only can Formant align the data for humans to act on, it can also turn their choices into valuable training data for artificial intelligence. Formant learns, so next time the machine won’t need assistance.

The industrial revolution, continued

With rockstar talent poached from Google and tides lifting all automated boats, Formant’s biggest threat is competition from tech giants. Old engineering companies like SAP could try to adapt to new real-time data type, yet Formant hopes to out-code them. Google itself has built reliable cloud scaffolding and has robotics experience from Boston Dynamics plus buying Linnell’s and Jules’ companies. But the enterprise customization necessary to connect with different clients isn’t typical for the search juggernaut.

Linnell fears that companies that try to build their own robot management software could get hacked. “I worry about people who do homegrown solutions or don’t have the experience we have from being at a place like Google. Putting robots online in an insecure way is a pretty bad problem.” Formant is looking to squash any bugs before it opens its platform to customers in 2019.

With time, humans will become less and less necessary, and that will surface enormous societal challenges for employment and welfare. “It’s in some ways a continuation of the industrial revolution” Jules opines. “We take some of this for granted but it’s been happening for 100 years. Photographer — that’s a profession that doesn’t exist without the machine that they use. We think that transformation will continue to happen across the workforce.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Sphero is finished making Star Wars products

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Sphero’s on-going deals are about more than just priming the pump for the holidays. The Colorado robotic toy startup is also in the process of cleaning out inventory of what are now be marked “legacy” products on its site. All of the Disney licensed products now carry a “THIS IS A LEGACY PRODUCT AND NO LONGER IN PRODUCTION” tag, and in many cases are no longer available through Sphero’s site.

The move is no surprise, of course. The company announced nearly a year ago amid layoffs that its licensed products would be a casualty of its shift toward education. Looks like that’s all finally run its course. Sphero CEO Paul Berberian confirmed the move with the Verge, noting shrinking returns.

“When you launch a toy, your first year’s your biggest,” he told the site. “Your second year’s way smaller, and your third year gets really tiny.”

BB-8 was a notable hit for the company, selling millions of units and putting Sphero on the map for many. It eventually spread itself too thin, however, double, tripling and quadrupling down with robotic toy takes on R2-D2, Lightning McQueen for cars and Spider-Man.

It was clearly too much, too fast, making its Disney partnership both a blessing and curse. Ultimately, the company saw STEM education as the clear path forward for its offerings.

For those who purchased one of the above, Sphero has promised to offer app support for “at least two years.” You might still be able to get a deal on one if you hurry. 

News Source = techcrunch.com

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